For the second week in a row, the Mountaineers absolutely dominated a conference opponent. Head coach Craig Turnbull's grapplers are getting better each week, building toward the crucial post-season tournament placements.
Turnbull was pleased with today's results. "We're wrestling pretty well. It's way too early for me to get too evaluative, but the effort was good. We're getting some results from their hard work, so it was a good win," he said. "Each person has a different challenge to keep getting better to be where we want to be in the EWL and hopefully at the NCAA tournament."
The only negative note was a rare Coliseum loss for David Jauregui at 149. Jauregui, who is a 2-time NCAA qualifier, now sits at 7-6 on the season, although he has looked very strong at times. "He was a little unlucky," his head coach pointed out. "He did all the right things, but it just didn't go his way today."
Compensation for Jauregui's loss came in the form of an unexpected victory by Jared Garvin at 133 and a nice 7-0 major decision by Steve Waite at 141. Waite expected to redshirt this year and take some time to move up to the college level, but has been pressed into action by the season-ending knee injury of two-time All-American Brandon Rader.
As usual, the lineup opened with University HS graduate Kyle Turnbull at 125. By the middle of the first round, Kyle was down 5-0 to Lock Haven's John Trumbetti and in obvious pain. He returned to action after an injury timeout, but clearly wasn't himself. He was slow getting into position after pauses in the action and round changes, and the look in his eyes betrayed the extent of his discomfort. Despite the adversity, the hometown hero more than held his own the rest of the match, giving up only 2 more points and mounting an aggressive attack through the third period. It was a gutsy performance in a disappointing 7-0 loss.
Jared Garvin at 133 came out with a lot of energy, but went behind 2-0 after the maroon and white-clad Billy Ashnault scored a takedown with 1:15 remaining in the first period. By round's end, Ashnault had 2 more points, and by the end of round two, all Garvin had was one point and some riding time. He began the third round with a quick escape, then tied the score with a minute remaining in the match. To the crowd's raucous delight, Garvin pulled out a 7-5 victory, evening the team score at 3-3.
"That was a very nice win for Jared ," Coach Turnbull pointed out. "He's been put in the lineup without a lot of experience and he did well today."
True freshman Steve Waite of Waterford, Pa. is improving almost before our eyes at 141. With every outing he has been more on top of his game, and that process continued today. A voice in the crowd called out, "It's your time, Steve," and the young grappler took that to heart. He held Lock Haven's Owen Wilkinson scoreless through the first round, then opened the 2nd period with a quick escape to go up 1-0. A minute later, the young Mountaineer flung his opponent to the floor and went up 5-0 to close the 2nd period. Waite pretty much rode Wilkinson the entire third round, winning 7-0 and gaining a bonus point to put the home team ahead 7-3.
The afternoon's marquis match-up pitted WVU's 149 pounder-David Jauregui against Bald Eagle Matt Fittery, who came into the match with 16 wins. The two were well-matched, of similar size, build, and determination. The first point wasn't scored until well into the 2nd round, with Jauregui's 1-point escape finally cracking the scoreboard. An escape by Fittery tied the match in the opening seconds of the 3rd round, and then it got exciting. Jauregui pounced, but Fittery was able to flip him, getting a 2 point reversal and building his riding time to 56 seconds. In quick order, the Mountaineer was behind 8-2, a highly unusual home loss for him.
With his team holding a narrow 7-6 lead, 18th-ranked Mountaineer Zac Fryling – last week's EWL Wrestler of the Week – knew what he needed to do at 157. After his most impressive win of the season last weekend, over Bloomsburg's #19 Matt Moley, the Lansdale, Pa. native pounced, taking a 6-3 lead in the early going. Lock Haven's bleached-blond John Mangini had a good 6-inches of height and couple of inches of wingspan advantage, but Fryling would not be denied. At the end of the 2nd period, Fryling led 18-8 with more than 2 minutes of riding time and a vocal young fan's constant encouragement. He shook off a finger in the eye, then went in for the kill. Fryling is such a pleasure to watch. WVU has never had a more determined competitor, nor one who demands – and gets – more from himself. A 21-11 victory put more bonus point on the board, and gave WVU a little breathing room at 11-6.
Fryling was pleased with his effort. "I've been working hard, training hard, trying to make my weaknesses my strengths. Our team's been training hard, stepping it up, and the team's wrestling really good." He has made the decision to postpone potentially career-ending wrist surgery until after the season is over. "It's a little sore, but it's my senior year," he smiled. "I've got nothing else left, so I'm going to go ahead."
Donnie Jones at 165 threw two quick takedowns right in front of the scorer's table to go ahead of Derek Caldwell 4-1. For the second week in a row, his lower body and leg strength played a significant role in his match. He cartwheels out of potential corners, flipping himself into an advantageous position. Jones's sense of balance is acute; he's one of the better wrestlers at using both halves of his body equally. As the third period opened, he was ahead 8-3 (his head coach could be heard to call out, "One more minute, Donnie, and you can go home!"), but then Caldwell scored 2 quick points, getting as close as 8-5 before the Mountaineer pulled away at 10-5.
At 174, Chance Litton continues to blossom. He's got that certain gleam in his eye and he sees that at his natural weight class, he can make a run at a conference title, if not go further. Mike Metzger tried a variety of escape strategies, but Litton successfully countered each time, showing an impressive abdominal strength. It's interesting to observe Greg Jones's developing coaching relationship with the Parkersburg native who holds his former spot in the West Virginia lineup. Had Metzger been less successful at pulling Litton out of bounds when he was in trouble, Litton's point total would have been even higher. As it was, the Mountaineer put on a show, plucking the Eagle's feathers with a 17-2 technical fall.
Moving Litton from 184 pounds, where he wrestled last year to 174 this year has paid off. "I do think that's part of it," Turnbull reflected. "He was really a 174-pounder wrestling at 184. We had two good wrestlers at 174, with Chance and Kurt Brenner. Kurt's achilles heel was that he had trouble losing weight. Chance was always 6 pounds underweight, so we made the switch and it seems to be working well for both of them. Chance is more comfortable, but he's working harder, too. You're seeing the value of experience. He came in with talent, but now you're seeing the result of two years of experience. It is more than [moving to] 174, but 174 is part of it."
WVU's Kurt Brenner met Jeremie Cook at 184, with the Mountaineers up 18-6. It was one of the more acrobatic match-ups in recent memory, with bodies flying through the air. Brenner seemed particularly quick today, with his usual earnestness and focus, grinding out a 7-5 win and securing a team victory.
Jared Villers carried a #12 national ranking into his match with LHU's Ben Hepburn and wasted no time demonstrating why he's so highly regarded. Hepburn was badly overmatched. With 9 seconds remaining in the second round, Villers scored a 17-0 technical fall.
The afternoon's final contest pitted WVU big man Dustin Rogers, ranked 17th in the country, against the maroon and white's Dan Craig. Halfway through the first round, Rogers led 7-1, then 9-2, then, as the second round began, 11-4. All but one of Craig's points were escapes gifted to him by Rogers, who clearly wanted to wrestle. When the whistle blew, it was 19-7, Rogers, and a 30-6 dominating team victory for West Virginia.
At the mid-point of the conference season, Rogers analyzed what he still needs to do. "I don't think you can ever be in too good a shape, you can never be too good a wrestler," he said, "but I especially need to work on my feet and keep my motion going. I'm in better shape this season. I've been eating better, watching what I put in my body, working harder, coming in, doing extra practices, trying to get on top of my game."
"I guess I did all right today."
125: John Trumbetti, Lock Haven, dec. Kyle Turnbull, WVU, 7-0
133: Jared Garvin, WVU 7-5 dec. v. Billy Ashnault, LHU
141: Stephen Waite, WVU, maj dec. 7-0 v. Owen Wilkinson, LHU
149: Matt Fittery, LHU, 8-2 dec. v. David Jauregui, WVU
157: #18 Zac Fryling, WVU maj. dec. 21-11 v. John Mangini, LHU
165: Donnie Jones, WVU, dec. 10-5 v. Derek Caldwell, LHU
174: Chance Litton , WVU, 17-2 tech. fall v. Mike Metzger, LHU
184: Kurt Brenner, WVU 7-5 dec. v. Jeremie Cook, LHU
197: #12 Jared Villers, WVU, 17-0 tech. fall v. Ben Hepburn, LHU
HWT #17 Dustin Rogers, WVU 19-7 maj. dec. v. Dan Craig, LHU
Captains for WVU were seniors Zac Fryling and Jared Villers.
* * *
The Lock Haven folks were as nice and friendly a bunch as have visited the Coliseum this season. The intensity of competition stayed on the mat, and off the mat, they offered smiles and handshakes. They're a great group of folks – no grandstanding, no unpleasantness. Y'all come back now, ya hear.
* * *
The officiating today, by John Hnath, was very good and very fair. WVU wrestling fans are knowledgeable about the sport and quick to complain an unreasonable call. There was no booing today.
* * *
WVU wrestling meets always have a family subtext. It's interesting to watch Craig Turnbull watch his son and Greg Jones watch his kid brother. Craig is always on the edge of his seat when Kyle is on the mat, but he does mostly sit, or quietly stand, although the tension in his body is palpable. Greg, on the other hand, paces when Donnie's out there, sometimes circling the movable basketball goal in the back corner.
* * *
Mountaineer nemesis Pitt comes to town February 8 at 7:30 p.m. for the final home wrestling meet of the season. Let's give the Panthers a warm West Virginia welcome and show them just how much the Backyard Brawl means in Morgantown, no matter the sport.